October 23, 1973 – “Saturday Night Massacre”

In June 1972, five men associated both with the CIA and with the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (i.e., President Richard Nixon) broke into the Democratic National Committee’s offices in the Watergate Complex in Washington, D.C. They were discovered by a security guard, and a scandal erupted.

The Watergate Complex from the air

The Watergate Complex from the air

That August, President Nixon announced that John Dean, who served as White House Counsel for United States President Richard Nixon from July 1970 until April 1973, completed an investigation into the Watergate case and found no involvement with anyone in the White House.

John Dean while serving as White House Counsel

John Dean while serving as White House Counsel

Nevertheless, on February 7, 1973, the U.S. Senate created a Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities to begin its own investigation. Various Nixon administration officials, including Dean, who made a deal to cooperate with investigators, alleged that Nixon’s innermost circle had orchestrated both the break-in, the cover-up of the break-in, and other illegal activities.

Honoring a promise that he had made during his confirmation hearings, Attorney General Elliott Richardson appointed lawyer Archibald Cox to serve as a special prosecutor to investigate the Watergate case if his own nomination garnered approval.

Elliot Richardson is sworn in as Secretary of Defense in February of 1973.

Elliot Richardson is sworn in as Secretary of Defense in February of 1973.

Cox demanded that Nixon produce tape recordings he had made in the Oval Office during the time period in question, and Nixon refused, claiming “executive privilege.”

On the night of October 23, Nixon ordered Richardson to fire Cox. Because Richardson had promised Congress he would appoint Cox, Richardson refused, and resigned in protest. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus to fire Cox, and Ruckelshaus also refused and resigned. The Solicitor General, Robert Bork, agreed to fire Cox, in what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”

Former Watergate Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox in 1983. Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post

Former Watergate Special Prosecutor,
Archibald Cox in 1983.
Lucian Perkins — The Washington Post

Congress was so outraged it introduced bills of impeachment, charging Nixon with abuse of power and obstruction of justice. Meanwhile, Cox’s successor, Leon Jaworski, followed in Cox’s footsteps, much to Nixon’s chagrin. The Supreme Court weighed in as well, and on July 24, 1974, Chief Justice Burger announced the Court’s decision in United States v. Nixon (418 U.S. 683, 1974) requiring Nixon to produce the Oval Office tapes. However, there was an eighteen-minute gap in the transcripts, never found, that Nixon claimed resulted from an error by his secretary.

But what had not been deleted was damaging enough, and on August 8, 1974, Nixon became the first U.S. President to resign from office. Vice President Gerald Ford assumed the presidency, and on September 8, 1974, he pardoned Nixon for any crimes associated with the Watergate affair.

U.S. President Richard M. Nixon as he announces his resignation on television  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

U.S. President Richard M. Nixon as he announces his resignation on television (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


September 24, 1755 – Birth of John Marshall, Fourth Chief Justice of U.S. Supreme Court

John Marshall was born in a rural community on the Virginia frontier, in what is now Fauquier County, on September 24, 1755.

His parents decided John was to be a lawyer, and John’s father bought him a copy of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England for John to read and study. After serving in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, Marshall read law under the famous Chancellor of the College of William and Mary, George Wythe; was elected to Phi Beta Kappa; and was admitted to the Bar in 1780. He was in private practice in Fauquier County before entering politics.

In 1788, Marshall was selected as a delegate to the Virginia convention responsible for ratifying or rejecting the United States Constitution, which had been proposed by the Philadelphia Convention a year earlier. Together with his fellow Virginians James Madison and Edmund Randolph, Marshall led the fight for ratification. He was especially active in defense of Article III, which provides for the Federal judiciary. Marshall identified with the new Federalist Party (which supported a strong national government and commercial interests), and opposed Jefferson’s Republican Party (which advocated states’ rights and idealized the yeoman farmer and the French Revolution).

John Marshall painting from 1797

In 1798, Marshall declined a Supreme Court appointment by President John Adams, recommending Bushrod Washington, who would later become one of Marshall’s staunchest allies on the Court. Instead, Adams named Marshall as Secretary of State.

Adams and the Federalists were defeated in the presidential election of 1800, but the President and the lame duck Congress passed what came to be known as the Midnight Judges Act, which made sweeping changes to the federal judiciary, including a reduction in the number of Justices from six to five (upon the next vacancy in the court) so as to deny Jefferson an appointment until two vacancies occurred. In addition, since the incumbent Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth was in poor health, Adams nominated Marshall. Marshall was confirmed by the Senate on January 27, 1801, and received his commission on January 31, 1801. President John Adams offered this appraisal of Marshall’s impact: “My gift of John Marshall to the people of the United States was the proudest act of my life.”

Marshall served as Chief Justice during the administrations of six Presidents: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. He helped to establish the Supreme Court as the final authority on the meaning of the Constitution in cases and controversies that must be decided by the federal courts. According to the Oyez Project, Marshall’s impact on constitutional law is without peer, and his imprint on the Court’s jurisprudence remains indelible.

In the excellent book John Marshall: The Chief Justice Who Saved The Union by Harlow Giles Unger, Unger takes the interesting approach of illuminating the contributions of John Marshall to the protection and preservation of the Constitution by describing the many ways in which Thomas Jefferson sought to subvert it. This book will educate readers about the actual operations of the early republic, rather than the usual “patriotic” myths fed to students of history. Although revered as a “Founding Father,” Jefferson was in truth often interested more in advancing his own ideas and ambition than in honoring the Constitution.


Marshall’s legacy as the 4th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was the assurance of “the integrity and eminence of the Constitution and the federal government.” Marshall, who was the longest serving Chief Justice in American history, signed over 1,180 decisions, writing 549 of them. As Unger shows:

In the course of his Supreme Court leadership Marshall stood at the center of the most riveting – and most important – courtroom dramas in the nation’s formative years. Case by case he defined, asserted, and when necessary, invented the authority he and the Court needed to render justice, stabilize the federal government, and preserve the Union and its Constitution.”

Because of Marshall’s efforts, the judiciary became an equal branch of the federal government. But it was not a predetermined outcome. When Jefferson didn’t get his way, he used every means at his disposal to try to vitiate the judiciary. To his chagrin, however, even when he appointed his own men to the bench, they became so impressed with Marshall’s erudition, devotion to the law, and integrity, that one by one, they became Marshall men instead of Jefferson men.

John marshall painting 1828

To this day, the decisions written or influenced by Marshall continue to shape the American polity. From his opinion in Marbury v. Madison, in which he established the independence of the federal judiciary, to his insistence in U.S. v. Burr that no one, not even the president, is above the law, Marshall made a lasting and positive imprint on the character of the country. And while Jefferson continued to insist, even when retired, that the federal and state governments represented two independent and equal sovereigns, Marshall, in McCulloch v. Maryland, set forth the precedent that state action may not impede valid constitutional exercises of power by the Federal government. The United States would be a radically different place had it not been for “the great,the good, the wise” John Marshall, as he was described by another famous and well-respected Supreme Court Justice, Joseph Story.

Daguerreotype of Supreme Court justice Joseph Story, 1844

Discussion: One reason I like Unger very much as a historian is that he has always been able to avoid portraying the Founding Fathers in sepia tones with golden halos. He is not loathe to point out, for example, that Jefferson was a vicious man who operated sub rosa through lackeys to destroy the careers and lives of anyone and everyone who disagreed with him. He is not reluctant to provide evidence for how much of the Declaration of Independence was lifted by Jefferson from other writings, such as those of John Locke, or how pusillanimously Jefferson behaved when the fighting broke out in the American Revolution. He also takes Jefferson to task for his treasonous acts against President John Adams when Jefferson himself was serving as Vice President. (This includes the concealment of evidence by Jefferson that would exonerate Adams from charges of impeachment, a movement for which Jefferson was leading the chorus.) And he doesn’t hesitate to speak of Jefferson’s bribes to members of the press to calumniate his opponents; his threats to start a Civil War if he were not elected in 1800; his blatant disdain of the Constitution when it got in the way of what he wanted to do; and his attempts to emasculate the judiciary so that it could not rule against any of his decisions.

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale

Jefferson largely escapes such a close look at his behavior because of the need for the American narrative to show him as a great man, who joined other great men to create a great nation. Even the recent DNA evidence of Jefferson’s long-time affair with Sally Hemings has been downplayed, and those who acknowledge it are quick to point out Jefferson’s long-standing relationship with her, as if his alleged monogamy would make up for his taking up with a fifteen-year old girl when he was forty-six, a girl who was in his care as a slave, unable not to do his bidding. The entire time she was his mistress, she continued to serve as his slave, in addition to being pregnant almost continuously when he was in town. She was not even freed by his will when he died. But collective memory serves to establish moral, political, and social lessons, and to help form an understanding of who we are as a people. Truth can often fall by the wayside.

Unger, however, has a respect for facts.

He also has a keen eye for those early figures in our history who displayed more character, more nuance, more courage, and more loyalty to the aims of the young country. One of those was John Marshall. This well-written story will keep your attention from beginning to end. Highly recommended!

Rating: 5/5

Published by Da Capo Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group, 2014

John Marshall by Henry Inman, 1832

August 7, 1782 – George Washington Creates the Badge of Military Merit, Which Became the Purple Heart

On this day in history, George Washington issued an order to create the Badge of Military Merit to recognize meritorious action.

“… The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit directs whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding.”

The Badge of Military Merit circa 1783 Image copyright: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

The Badge of Military Merit circa 1783
Image copyright: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

There are only three known recipients of the Badge of Military Merit, all from the American Revolutionary War: Sergeant Elijah Churchill, 2nd Continental Dragoons, later the 2nd Legionary Corps; Sergeant William Brown, 5th Connecticut Regiment, and Sergeant Daniel Bissell, 2nd Connecticut Continental Line Infantry (later Colonel of the 5th Infantry).

Once the American Revolution ended, the Badge of Merit was all but forgotten until the 20th century.

In 1932 army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur revived the badge renaming it the Purple Heart. General Order No.3 announced the establishment of the award:

“…By order of the President of the United States, the Purple Heart, established by General George Washington at Newburgh, August 7, 1782, during the War of the Revolution is hereby revived out of respect to his memory and military achievements.

By order of the Secretary of War:
Douglas MacArthur
General, Chief of Staff”

MacArthur himself was the first recipient, on the bicentennial of Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1932.

General Pershing (second from left) decorates Brigadier General MacArthur (third from left) with the Distinguished Service Cross.

General Pershing (second from left) decorates Brigadier General MacArthur (third from left) with the Distinguished Service Cross.

The medal is primarily designed to recognize meritorious service. The Purple Heart is also given to soldiers wounded or killed in battle.

In April of 1942 the military allowed posthumous awards of Purple Hearts, and in September 1942 the War Department designated the award to be given exclusively for wounds or deaths in combat.

John F. Kennedy, wounded in action in August of 1943, is the only U.S. president to have received the honor.

Various rulings in recent years have ruled out frostbite, heat stroke, and PTSD as eligible injuries.

In 1996 the regulations were amended to allow prisoners of war to receive the Purple Heart.

August 1, 1899 – Elihu Root Appointed the 41st U.S. Secretary of War

Elihu Root, born in 1845, was an American lawyer and statesman who served as Secretary of War for both William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, first appointed to that position on this day in history.

Root was the son of a professor of mathematics at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. Attending Hamilton himself, Root graduated first in his class in 1864 at the age of nineteen. He taught school for one year, graduated from the Law School of New York University in 1867, and founded a law firm after one year of practice. By the time he was thirty Root had established himself as a prominent lawyer specializing in corporate affairs.

In 1899, President McKinley invited him to become his Secretary of War, saying that he needed a lawyer in the post, not a military man. Root served in this capacity from 1899 to 1904. The much-later appointed Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson said of Root “no such intelligent, constructive, and vital force” had occupied that post in American history.

Elihu Root in 1902

Elihu Root in 1902

As the biography on the Nobel Prize website (Root won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912) reports:

Root reorganized the administrative system of the War Department, established new procedures for promotion, founded the War College, enlarged West Point, opened schools for special branches of the service, created a general staff, strengthened control over the National Guard, restored discipline within the department. He was most concerned, however, about the three dependencies acquired as a result of the war. He devised a plan for returning Cuba to the Cubans; wrote a democratic charter for the governance of the Philippines, designing it to insure free government, to protect local customs, and to bring eventual self-determination; and eliminated tariffs on Puerto Rican goods imported into the United States.”

Root returned to his private legal practice in 1904, but answered President Theodore Roosevelt’s call to serve as his Secretary of State in 1905. Again, Root compiled an impressive record.

From 1909 to 1915, Root served as a United States Senator from New York, but he declined a candidacy for reelection thereafter. He did remain active as a statesman, however, accepting President Woodrow Wilson’s appointment as ambassador on a special diplomatic mission to Russia in 1917.

Théobald Chartran’s portrait of Elihu Root was painted in 1903, as Root served as what was then secretary of war under President Theodore Roosevelt.

Théobald Chartran’s portrait of Elihu Root was painted in 1903, as Root served as what was then secretary of war under President Theodore Roosevelt.

In 1922, when Root was 77, President Warren G. Harding appointed him as a delegate of an American team to the Washington Naval Conference (International Conference on the Limitation of Armaments).

Root also worked with Andrew Carnegie on programs for international peace and the advancement of science, becoming the first president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was also among the founders of the American Law Institute in 1923, and helped create the Hague Academy of International Law in the Netherlands. In addition, he served as vice president of the American Peace Society, which publishes World Affairs, the oldest U.S. journal on international relations.

In addition to receiving the Nobel Prize, Root was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Crown (from Belgium) and the Grand Commander of the Order of George I (from Greece).

Root died in 1937 in New York City, with his family by his side.

Review of “The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage” by Selina Alko


As the Author explains in an Afterword to this book, she is white and her husband, fellow illustrator Sean Qualls, is African-American. They fell in love and were married in 2003. Alko writes:

“I must admit, it’s difficult to imagine that just decades ago couples just like us not only faced discrimination, but were told by their governments that their love was unlawful.”

But it was only in 1967 that the U.S. Supreme Court declared that anti-mixed marriage statutes were unconstitutional, in the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia. Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing for the Court, declared that statutes preventing marriage solely on the basis of racial classification violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

At the time of this decision, Virginia was one of sixteen states prohibiting and punishing marriages on the basis of racial classification. According to one Virginia statute, a “white person” was absolutely prohibited from marrying anyone other than another “white person.” The license-issuing official had to be satisfied that applicants’ statements as to their race were correct, and certificates of “racial composition” had to be kept by both state and local registrars.


This book tells the story of two Virginia residents, Mildred Jeter, part African-American and part Cherokee, and Richard Loving, a fair-skinned white boy. The two fell in love, but had to travel to Washington, D.C. to get married legally, which they did in 1958. Shortly thereafter, they returned to Virginia and took up residence.


They’d been married just a few weeks when, in the middle of the night in July, 1958, the county sheriff and two deputies, acting on an anonymous tip that the Lovings were in violation of the law, stormed into the couple’s bedroom. They informed the Lovings that their marriage license was no good in Virginia, and hauled Richard and the pregnant Mildred off to jail.

The couple eventually pleaded guilty to violating the Virginia law, which recognized citizens as “pure white” only if they could claim white lineage all the way back to 1684. The presiding judge ruled:

“Almighty God created the races white, white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents.” And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

The Lovings were convicted and sentenced to one year in jail; however, the trial judge suspended the sentence for 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave Virginia. They moved to D.C., but missed their friends and family and the Virginia countryside. In 1964, frustrated by their inability to travel together to visit their families in Virginia, Mildred Loving wrote in protest to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Kennedy referred the matter to the American Civil Liberties Union.


The ACLU filed a motion on the Lovings’ behalf to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the ground that the statute, the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924,” violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The Lovings also filed a class action in federal court to have the Virginia statutory scheme declared unconstitutional. This began a series of procedures and appeals that ultimately reached the Supreme Court.

Mildred and Richard Loving with their three children on the front porch of their Virginia home in the late 1960’s.

Mildred and Richard Loving with their three children on the front porch of their Virginia home in the late 1960’s.

Mildred and Richard Loving went on to have three children: Donald, Peggy and Sidney Loving. In the book, the authors aver that the Loving family, back in Virginia, lived “happily (and legally!) ever after.” But the truth is more tragic. Richard Loving died at age 41 in 1975, when a drunken driver struck their car. Mildred Loving lost her right eye in the same accident.

Mildred Loving died of pneumonia in 2008, in Milford, Virginia, at age 68. Her daughter Peggy Fortune said “I want [people] to remember her as being strong and brave yet humble — and believ[ing] in love.”

Mildred and Richard Loving in 1967

Mildred and Richard Loving in 1967

This book is a testament to that love, and also to the love between the Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. For the art work, they collaborated, using paint and collage in bold and beautiful colors. This is their first book together, but you can see in this book the influence of their previous (separate) books about mixed race relationships, such as Who Will I Be, Lord? by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Sean Qualls, Illustrator, and I’m Your Peanut Butter Big Brother by Selina Alko (both author and illustrator).

Evaluation: This story is told truthfully, but with the focus on the positive aspects of love, family, and the conviction that “Brand-new ideas, like equal rights for people of all colors, were replacing old, fearful ways of thinking.” One can only hope that faith continues to be justified.

Rating: 4.5/5

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2015

July 25, 1866 – Ulysses S. Grant Becomes the First Four-Star General in U.S. History

Military commanders have always been popular and deemed a threat to political leaders, so such honors as bestowing four stars upon a general were not conferred lightly.

In fact, the U.S. Congress refused to authorize a rank higher than major general until 1798. That year, fears that France might invade the United States induced Congress to name George Washington General of the Armies. When Washington died in December 1799, the rank died with him.

George Washington

George Washington

After Washington’s death, an Act of May 14, 1800, specifically authorized President Adams to suspend any further appointment to the office of General of the Armies of the United States.

The idea of resurrecting the rank of lieutenant general was introduced to Congress on December 7, 1863, by Representative Elihu B. Washburne, who represented Grant’s home district in Illinois. Grant took pains to assure Lincoln that Grant had no political ambitions, and thus Lincoln lent his support to the bill. After it passed with comfortable majorities in both the House and the Senate, Lincoln signed it into law on February 29 and submitted Grant’s name to Congress as his choice to fill the post.

President Abraham Lincoln called his cabinet to the Executive Mansion on March 9, 1864, to witness his presentation of Ulysses S. Grant with his commission as a lieutenant general. Only George Washington had risen to that rank in the U.S. Army before him.

On this day in history, Congress enacted legislation authorizing the grade of General of the Army, and on that same date the new grade was conferred on Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. The grade was recognized and continued in various acts until the Act of July 15, 1870, which contained the requirement that “the offices of general and lieutenant general shall continue until a vacancy shall exist in the same, and no longer, and when such vacancy shall occur in either of said offices shall become inoperative, and shall, by virtue of this act, from thence forward be held to be repealed.”

General U.S. Grant

General U.S. Grant

William T. Sherman, Grant’s successor as Commanding General of the Army, was appointed as General of the Army on March 4, 1869, and upon his retirement in February 1884 was placed on the retired list as General of the Army.

Sherman’s successor was Lieutenant General Philip H. Sheridan, who could not be promoted to General of the Army because of the 1870 law. Congress, however, enacted legislation on June 1, 1888, shortly before Sheridan’s death, that discontinued the grade of lieutenant general and merged it with that of General of the Army. The grade of General of the Army was conferred on Sheridan and was discontinued when he died, while still on active duty on August 5, 1888.

Congress revived the grade of General of the Armies of the United States by Public Law 45, approved September 3, 1919, to honor General John J. Pershing for his wartime service. He retired with that rank on September 13, 1924, and held it until his death on July 15, 1948.

General John J. Pershing

No other officer held this specific title until 1976, when President Ford appointed George Washington posthumously as General of the Armies of the United States and specified that he would rank first among all officers of the Army, past and present.

July 21, 1899 – Birthdate of Nathan Ross Margold

Nathan Margold, who drew up the blueprint for NAACP’s strategy in Brown v. Board of Education, was born on this day in history in Romania. His parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1901, and he was raised in Brooklyn, New York. He attended law school at Harvard, where he served on the law review along with Charles Hamilton Houston, the first black member of the Harvard Law Review and later the influential dean of Howard Law School. After graduation, Margold served as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

In 1927, Felix Frankfurter recruited Margold to teach criminal law at Harvard, and he taught there for a year before the law school decided that two Jewish reformers on the faculty were at least one too many; Margold returned to practice in New York.

In 1930, both Frankfurter and Charles Houston recruited Margold to serve as Special Counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Margold was hired to coordinate the NAACP’s strategic litigation plan “to give the Southern Negro his constitutional rights, [and] his political and civil equality.”

To that end, Margold wrote a 218-page report outlining a legal strategy for desegregating public schools in the South.

The Margold Report, The New York Public Library

The Margold Report, The New York Public Library

As Eva Paterson reports of Margold:

He proposed a twofold litigation strategy: (1) “boldly challenge the constitutional validity of segregation if and when accompanied irremediably by discrimination” due to the lack of a state statute obligating school officials to comply with Plessy v. Ferguson; and (2) rely on Yick Wo v. Hopkins to challenge facially neutral state segregation laws that denied equal protection because of unequal application by school officials. Hence, Margold’s plan was thoroughly laced with court-based rights advocacy and became the bedrock of the NAACP legal strategy toward Brown.” (Eva Paterson et al., Equal Justice—Same Vision in a New Day, Yale L.J. (The Pocket Part), Nov. 2005.)

Margold left the NAACP in 1933 to join other former students of Felix Frankfurter in the new Franklin Roosevelt administration, serving as solicitor for the Department of Interior until 1942. FDR appointed him as a judge for the Municipal Court for the District of Columbia, and in 1945 he moved to the District Court, where he served until his death in 1947.

Meanwhile, after Margold left the NAACP, Houston took over as Special Counsel, and continued to direct efforts to end segregation, recruiting his top student at Howard, Thurgood Marshall, to assist him.

Thurgood Marshall in 1936 at the beginning of his career with the NAACP

Thurgood Marshall in 1936 at the beginning of his career with the NAACP